Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Bunker

(Src1 Src2)

"What do you think, Rudi? Will the Amis come in this snowstorm?" Grenadier Ulrich Kleinheisterkamp was straining to see into the forest. The snow was falling heavily at the moment but it had been off and on all day.

"How would I know Ulrich? Do I look like a weather forecaster or a strategist?" Grenadier Rudi Hahn, the gunner, was looking over the barrel of their MG 42. Theirs was an older bunker and was basically a concrete shell. It was cold and the trees grew in close to the firing slit. Whether that was by design or sloppy placement of the bunker, Hahn didn't know, he was one of the older men in the squad, nearly 19-years of age.

"If the two of you keep chattering, I'll shoot you myself." Gruff old Stabsgefreiter Edgar Pöge, came into the firing chamber from the sleeping area. He was all of forty-three years old, had done his stint in the army after the end of the Great War, in the Reichswehr, the rump military allowed to Germany by the Versailles Treaty. He had been lucky to do a tour in the Army, slots were limited as were jobs in the Weimar Republic.

When Germany had invaded Poland he had a comfortable slot in the quartermaster corps, far behind the lines in Dresden. But as more and more men were being fed into the abattoir that was the Eastern Front, he could no longer avoid service at the front and in late 1942 he had been with the Sixth Army, in Stalingrad.

Pöge only had two fingers and a thumb on his left hand, a Soviet grenade had taken the other two in the struggle to seize a Soviet apartment building not far from the Volga River. Notwithstanding his crippled left hand, he considered himself lucky. He had been on the last flight taking wounded out.

Now he was at the front again, neither his age nor his disability were enough to keep him in the rear. Now he was an assistant squad leader, his squad leader was all of twenty-five years old, but Unterfeldwebel Karl-Heinz Landau was an old hand, he'd seen every campaign since Poland, been wounded twice, had both the Iron Cross First and Second Class and had a Tank Destruction Badge for single-handedly destroying a Soviet T-34 near Kharkov.

The way Landau told the story, it had been an accident. He'd been ordered up to the line with a Panzerknacker and he'd turned the corner of this one rubble filled street to find a T-34 parked right in front of him. The Russian crew was looking the other way. He'd attached the thing to the tank, pulled the fuse then ran like Hell. His sergeant had seen the whole thing and Landau got his tank killer badge.

Landau played down his experiences in Russia, but Pöge knew the type, a competent soldier who just did his job. A job Landau was very good at.

Pöge looked at the two Grünschnabeln¹ and said, "Keep your eyes open boys, and your mouths shut. This snow is letting up. Pray for night, the Amis won't come at night. At least I hope they won't."


Sgt. Melvin Katz raised a hand, the men stopped, dropped slowly to a crouch and turned their gazes to cover their assigned sectors. Katz thought that his new kids learned pretty quickly, better than some of the new recruits they'd received before the Hürtgen. Probably why the Army had sent them to college in the first place.

Turning he looked for Pvt. Scott Caldwell, the new guy was carrying a bazooka and Katz wanted him near in case they needed to crack a bunker. He nodded at the kid, who nodded back and clutched his stove pipe a little tighter, the kid was obviously nervous. Hell, Katz thought to himself, I'm nervous!

The snow was stopping, at least he thought it was it was hard to tell inside the woods. Snow would continue to trickle down off the branches even after it had stopped falling. But he could see a brightness in the sky, perhaps the sun would come out. But in these woods, it was hard to tell.

Katz felt a hand on his shoulder, he knew it was his acting assistant squad leader, Pfc. Bogdan Nowak. Katz got along well with his fellow European, Katz himself had been born in Austria, but being Jewish his family had fled Austria well before the Anschluss, his father had seen the writing on the wall.

Nowak had been born in Poland but his family had emigrated to the United States when his father had received an offer of sponsorship to work in a factory in a small town in Vermont. A number of other Poles lived there, including his Uncle Karol.

Though young, Nowak was a natural soldier, when 2nd Lt. Stephen Hernandez had realized that Katz's squad didn't have an assistant squad leader, and there were no "spare" corporals in the platoon, Katz had suggested Nowak.

"The kid's smart as a whip L.T., picks up things fast. I swear, he's a natural soldier, lives to kill Germans. He and his buddy Bill Zielinski are both good troops. Let's give Nowak a chance, if he works out, I'll recommend him for corporal." Katz had explained to his lieutenant. Hernandez had agreed, now here they were.

Katz looked at Nowak, who leaned forward and murmured in his sergeant's ear, "There are Germans around, Sarge, I can smell 'em."

Katz nodded, he didn't notice any "smell" but he knew what Nowak meant, he couldn't smell the Germans literally, but it made sense that they were close to where they must be. The terrain itself argued that there should be a defensive line right about here, Katz thought.

Katz signaled for the men to take a knee and have a good look at what they were seeing. Something didn't feel right. As he thought about it, maybe Nowak could smell the Germans, you never knew with the Poles.

"Etwas², Edgar?" Unterfeldwebel Landau came in to the fighting compartment and glanced out of the vision slit. It was lighter out, but there was still snow filtering down through the trees. Visibility down the slight slope was terrible, the Amis could practically walk right up to the muzzle of their machine gun before they'd spot them.

"Nothing, Kalle. It's quiet, it's awfully pretty though, isn't it?" Stabsgefreiter Pöge sounded almost wistful as he said that.

"Pretty goddamned cold, I'll give you that. I swear Russia was warmer." Landau groused, there was something about this wet cold that just went right through him.

Pöge cocked an eyebrow and looked hard at his squad leader, "You think this is cold?"

Landau started to respond when Rudi Hahn said, "Herr Unterfeldwebel, there's something out there."

Pvt. Luther Thomas raised himself up from the ground, his ass was soaked from the snow and it felt like he was going to freeze if he didn't shift position. As he did so, he saw something through the trees ahead, somehow a darker shadow than should be there. Then he realized what he was seeing, it was a bunker.

"Chris, I see a Kraut bunker." Thomas whispered to the B.A.R. man, Pfc. Chris McWhorter, the man he was the assistant to, which really meant he humped his own rifle, his own ammo, and extra magazines for the B.A.R. which McWhorter carried.

"What? Get your ass down, Luther." McWhorter hissed at his assistant.

"SCHEIßE!! AMERIKANER!!" Rudi Hahn screamed as he racked the bolt back on his machine gun and proceeded to open fire at a vague shape in the forest, a shape which hadn't been there a moment ago.

Thomas crumpled to the ground, his chest a bloody ruin after being hit by two rounds from the German machine gun. McWhorter went to ground and rolled to his left, looking for the source of the incoming fire, there, a flash! McWhorter opened fire, trying to suppress the German gun.

Kleinheisterkamp screamed as chips of concrete flew into his eyes. He fell back from the gun and tried to get the flakes out of his eyes, they stung like mad! The Americans had returned fire very quickly. When Kleinheisterkamp fell back, the belt going into the gun twisted, causing it to feed incorrectly, jamming the weapon.

"Shit, shit, shit!" Hahn popped the feed tray open, he pulled the belt up and began to reseat it when another burst of American fire hit around the bunker's vision slit, one round came through and tore the helmet from Hahn's head, knocking him senseless.

The other men of the squad were coming into the firing compartment now, one or two of the men were firing their rifles blindly into the forest. Landau pulled Hahn out of the way, the kid looked stunned but still alive, he set the belt back into the feed and slapped the feed tray closed, racking the bolt back he looked for a target.

"F**k, f**k, f**k!! Sarge, did you spot it?!!" McWhorter screamed as he changed the magazine in the B.A.R.

"Yeah, I got it! You okay?" Katz yelled back. The squad had gone prone as soon as they heard the characteristic snarl of a German machine gun followed by the bark of McWhorter's B.A.R., only McWhorter had fired.

"I'm okay, Luther is down, he's hit bad!"

Sgt. Katz had seen the flash from the German machine gun in his peripheral vision, what he'd really noticed was the dust coming off of something in the forest when McWhorter had returned fire. That's when he'd seen the bunker's vision slit.

"Caldwell, where's my stovepipe!!?" he'd yelled, he knew Caldwell was close.

"Right here, Sarge. Damn it, I wet my f**king pants!" Katz heard the new man answer, he was close on Katz's right side.

"Don't worry about that, did you see where that fire came from?"

"I dunno Sarge, it all happened so fast."

"Get your ass up here, stay low, hug the f**king ground kid!"

"Cease fire, cease fire!! You boys are shooting at air!" Landau managed to get his rookies to stop shooting at shadows long enough so that the air cleared inside the bunker. He was hunched over the gun, searching for targets. One of the new kids was on the belt, ready to feed it.

"Stay calm boys, looks like the Amis have come to visit. Edgar, how are Hahn and Kleinheisterkamp?"

"Rudi's okay, just rattled, but he's going to need a new helmet! Ulrich, can you see?" Pöge asked the assistant gunner as he noticed that the kid was blinking his eyes and looking around.

"My eyes sting, Herr Stabsgefreiter, but I can see, just concrete dust. The water helped." During the brief blaze of fire, Kleinheisterkamp had used water from his canteen to try and wash his eyes out, fortunately the liquid in his canteen wasn't frozen.

"Edgar, take the riflemen outside, try to flank the Americans, I don't think there are that many of..."

As Unterfeldwebel Landau said that, a 2.5 inch bazooka round slammed into the bunker, just above the machine gun. One of the riflemen, Grenadier Reinhard Rader, spun away from the vision slit, his right arm bloody. His screams filled the bunker.

Landau looked up, he had ducked his head just in time, "Damn it, the gun is trashed. Everyone out, I'm not waiting for another shot from that American antitank weapon!"

"Nice shot Caldwell, reload, reload!"

Pfc. Alexander Boone was carrying the spare ammo for the bazooka, Caldwell had shown him how to load the thing, he was slow, but he yelled, "Up" after a few long seconds.

Caldwell fired at what he thought was the bunker's vision slit, in reality it was a band of darker paint meant to draw the attention of an assailant from the actual vision slit. But he missed entirely and the round sailed high and into the distance.

"Damn it." Katz swore as he checked Thomas, the man was dead.

"Boone, help me drag Thomas, everybody fall back to the head of the trail!"

The American squad, having fulfilled their mission of discovering the German line, fell back, dragging the body of Pvt. Luther Thomas.

"Where is Hönigswald?" Landau was checking on his squad, Rudi Hahn would need medical attention for a concussion, Grenadier Reinhard Rader would probably lose an arm, the debris from the hit on the bunker and fragments from the American rocket had shredded his right arm. When they had evacuated the bunker, Landau and Pöge had climbed onto the roof of the bunker, and narrowly missed being hit by another American bazooka rocket. Pöge had noticed the back blast from the weapon.

Pöge had brought his machine pistol up to fire, but Landau had shoved it down. "Too far, Edgar. You'll never hit them. Look, they're retiring. Looks like we killed one of them."

Rejoining the remainder of the squad, Landau had noticed that one of his men was missing.

"He's still inside, Herr Unterfeldwebel." Grenadier Waldemar Lindner had seen Hönigswald drop to the floor of the bunker but in the confusion assumed that he was okay.

"Rudi, can you hear me?" Landau asked his dazed looking gunner.

"Ja, what happened?"

"You got knocked on the head. Can you help Rader back to the main line? He needs a Sani, so do you."

"Uh, sure, okay, I think so."

"I'll get us there, Herr Unterfeldwebel, I can still walk." Grenadier Reinhard Rader had his mangled arm in a makeshift sling, one of his mates had tied off his arm above the elbow, the bleeding seemed under control.

"Good. Tell Feldwebel Hase what happened, do we hold, or do we fall back? Klar?"

"Yes, yes, I can do that. Come on Rudi, I'll lead you back."

With that the two men shuffled down the trail.

Landau and Pöge went back into the bunker and discovered that Hönigswald was indeed still in the bunker, quite dead. A piece of steel had hit him in the forehead. They moved him outside and tried to repair their damaged machine gun, it was no use. The armorer could probably patch it up, but they couldn't.

"What do we do now, Herr Unterfeldwebel?" Stabsgefreiter Pöge asked.

"We put Hönigswald's corpse outside, then we wait. For orders, or for the Americans, whichever comes first."

"You found the bunker line I take it?" 2nd Lt. Hernandez was angry, he'd lost another man for no good reason. He unfolded his map and handed it to Sgt. Katz.

"Yeah, L.T., right here, about where you might expect, but I don't think it's the main line."

"Neither do I. I think it's further on, but we'll find out tomorrow. Get your men fed. Sorry about Thomas."

"Yeah, me too. Kid stood up, he should know better by now."

"I get it Cat, we're all tired. We'll talk in an hour, as soon as it's dark."

"Okay Sir."

The snow began to fall again. 2nd Lt. Hernandez looked at his map again, then over at the poncho-wrapped corpse of another man from his platoon. The cost was starting to get to him.

A lot.

¹ Greenhorns
² Anything?

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.


  1. A minor typo:

    Hell, Katz though to himself, I'm nervous!

    A bazooka wasn't strong enough to pierce that concrete was it?

    Now, having read the latest installment, at 0233 I can retire ;-)

    1. Fixed that typo. (My editor went to bed before checking!)

      No, a bazooka round wouldn't pierce the concrete, but the round exploding in or near the vision slit would help suppress the occupants.

    2. If the concrete was poor, the bazooka hit might spall the backside off. But the early bazooka, firing a 60mm rocket, was woefully underpowered. The "Super-Bazooka", firing an 89mm rocket, had the penetration needed for bunker busting, but weren't available until after WWII and weren't issued until the great retreat in Korea, when the Army finally acknowledged that the 60mm bazooka just sucked rocks against even the rear armor of T-34s.

    3. Big Army has trouble admitting their mistakes.

      Nothing has changed...

    4. Big Army in general, or Army Ordnance in particular? I only ask since I've heard stories about Ordnance being obstinate to the point of idiocy.

    5. Well, ever heard the story of the U.S. Navy's torpedo problems early in WWII?

      Wasn't just Army Ordnance who had their heads up their asses. In the Navy's case, things don't seem that different today...

    6. The torpedo disaster caused by the Torpedo Station, the location of which was used by the Station for the base setting for the magnetic pistol, without taking I to account local magnetic variances around the world. The Navy did not cover itself in glory, there.

  2. Bout an hour behind ya.
    The bazooka (2.75) probably wouldn't pierce most concrete but a hit on the vision slit (first round) would do some real damage.
    Good job Sarge at portraying the grind, a small encounter -except to two young men; for whom it was the ultimate. Takes discipline to lay in the cold and wet.
    Boat Guy

    1. Yup, suppressing the occupants while maneuvering, that was the plan.

      For two guys it wasn't a very successful plan.

  3. Is the German KIA Lindner or Honigswald? You've got Lindner talking but then have the corpse of "Lindner" being dragged out.

    1. Yup, I gooned that up, Lindner is alive, Hönigswald was KIA.

      I fixed that. (Like I mentioned above, the editor went to bed after scheduling the post. I figured, "It should be fine..." - D'oh!)

  4. That bunker photo, trees that close......boy o boy......wouldn't want to be inside that. A short, tense deadly encounter, here we go again!

    1. Bunkers are rather claustrophobic, you're in a box, a well-protected box but you're at the mercy of enemy firepower. No chance to maneuver.

    2. Ernie Pyle wrote about observing bunker busting with a 155mm M12 GMC. The impact of the round fired at essentially point blank could kill occupants twice, from concussion, and spalling. The gun would be driven up to where the gun crew could aim the weapon by looking down the gun tube, load and fire.

    3. Used in the Pacific as I recall. Tough to get one of those through a forest.

    4. Pyle saw it used on the Siegfried Line. It's toward the end of Brave Men. Just before he says he is going home to rest and recuperate, and then go to the Pacific.

    5. No doubt, but not where our boys are.

  5. I'd have wet myself too!

  6. Sarge, to the point about illustrations in lieu of photos, a good illustration of the view from the bunker would lose nothing (maybe gain?) to that photo.....

    1. True, but producing those illustrations would be a major undertaking. That is, unless you know someone? (If you do, email me, contact info is over on the right on the web version.)

  7. You paint scenes very well Sarge. I can feel the cold and claustrophobia.

    One recalls the bunkers (pill boxes, as I think I recall them being called) in the Pacific. Manned with regular troops, they could be incredibly lethal and difficult to clear.

    1. So I did some reading...

      There are actual definitions for what is a bunker and what is a pillbox, only in English of course, the rest of the world had their own terminology. There's actually a "Pillbox Study Group" in the UK! (Chase the link to read an article on the origin of the term "pillbox.")

      Defensive positions manned by Japanese troops were extremely hard to clear, usually you had to kill them all! They wouldn't surrender like Western troops would when the situation became hopeless. For the Japanese soldier, "to the last man" wasn't hyperbole. (Though I suspect you already knew that.)

    2. Which is why, in the Pacific, especially hard fortifications were pumped full of gasoline and then lit by flamethrower. Repeatedly. Until the concrete cracked. Then lots of explosives tossed in and set off, then buried.

      The Japanese in a fixed position were nigh unto immovable.

      And that's on the flat islands of the Central Pacific. Given more vertical terrain, well, yeah. There's a reason we never ever wanted to try to take Truk Lagoon (which was fortified as much as Iwo, just with interlocking fire from all the islands.

      Which brings us to post-WWII analysis of Japanese defenses in Japan. Yeah, the initial plans were woefully underpowered.

      One thing the Japanese did and do well is dig. They dig like crazy.

    3. German concrete. There's 'lots' of it still around in France. I stayed on a campsite near Brest that was on the site of a German bunker complex. The site owner said they they tried to remove some of the bunkers. They gave up as the concrete was quite strong and more than equal to anything they could use. They landscaped the gun emplacements into the campsite and planted ivy to cover the concrete. As an aside I saw a very quirky holiday home in France. It was a bunker complex overlooking an estuary and somehow the owner had managed to cut some of the concrete to create picture windows overlooking the sea. I shudder to think how much that would have cost.
      BTW have a look at 'La Coupole', the bunker complex in the north of France.

    4. Beans - Tough job getting rid of concrete installations. Hell, there are lots of things still around built of Roman concrete!

    5. Retired - Had a look at that site, impressive! For those interested, here's a link.

      An impressive installation!

    6. If you want to waste more time look at Subterranea Britannica. It's a very 'British' type of site but interesting. As someone who spent his working life in London I'm amazed the whole place hasn't subsided due to the amount of tunneling that has taken place.

    7. Okinawa and iwo-jima gave US troops estimate of what it would take to invaded Japan Proper. Casualties into millions.

    8. Retired - Makes one wonder if there is any solid ground underneath Olde London Towne!

    9. Pawel, I read somewhere that the USA are still working through the stocks of Purple Hearts that were made for the projected invasion of Japan. I'm not sure how true that is. Sarge, London is honeycombed with tunnels. I'd love to see a 3d map of London, particularly in the centre.

    10. That would be an incredible thing to see!

    11. In reading about the Japanese plan to resist troops invading the homeland (Ketsu-Go) , 500,000 purple hearts were ordered for the initial production, and yes, they were still being issued decades later.

    12. You have heard about the special ammo clip made for the 40mm Before for bunker busting? The first three projectiles were tennis balls. BONK BONK BONK, against the door. When the occupants would open the door to see who was knocking,the gunner would step on the trigger again. I read that in a book by Ian Hogg, and he would never joke about something like that, would he?

    13. The ND 164th was scheduled for the first wave on Japan proper 'We will need only a row boat to take all of back aboard' Planners were just writing off the first four divisions that would come ashore. And the US had four (or five) nuclear weapons, and they would use them in support...

    14. William - It would have been bloody in the extreme.

    15. StB - Well, actually he would. I mean Hogg was a gunner, they have odd senses of humor.

    16. Don - Casualties would have been appalling.

  8. Gun destroyed, position identified, our Major should pull his troops back, maybe leaving a booby-trap or two for to surprise our GIs with.

    But should and would are two different things.

    Excellent tale. I think I'll go take a hot shower. Brrrrr...

    1. Well it isn't part of the MLR, so more than likely the Major will leave it be.

  9. (Don McCollor)...another place is the silver mining in the Comstock Lode under Virginia City NV. Under the city was a honeycomb of tunnels...

    1. Mining always seems to leave the earth a honeycomb.

    2. (Don McCollor)...Had a tour of MN State Park Soudan (iron)Mine. Takes three minutes for the car to get down (from the occasional light flashing past, it is not moving slow). Step out at 27 level -2341 feet below ground (888 feet below sea level). Could feel the whole weight of the rock pressing down...

  10. What? This isn't like the movies, where nobody on our side dies while the enemy takes heavy casualties? Haha. There's also no silly love story.

  11. Minor nomenclature correction-
    The WW2 bazookas are always referred to as "2.36 inch" never rounded up to 3.5 inch.
    The Korean war era "super bazookas" were 3.5 inch.
    Another great installment.

    John Blackshoe

  12. Dang fat fingers!
    Should read- The WW2 bazookas are always referred to as "2.36 inch" never rounded up to 2.5 inch.


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